A Call for Turkey to “Free the Press”

By National Press Club, Special for  USDR

As President Trump welcomed Turkish President Recip Tayyip Erdogan at the White House Tuesday, we at the National Press Club are recalling another distinguished Turkish guest whom we hosted three weeks  ago.

Our luncheon guest was Erol Önderoğlu, the Turkish representative of the international organization, Reporters Without  Borders.

Those of us who were fortunate enough to spend an hour with him didn’t want to see him go, not only because Önderoğlu was urbane, passionate, tough and witty — a real reporter’s reporter — but because we fear for his  safety.

After years of defending other journalists faced with harassment by Turkey’s government, one of the most hostile in the world to free speech, according to Reporters Without Borders and the U.S.-based Freedom House, Önderoğlu needs help himself.  For taking a symbolic role in a campaign of support for a Kurdish daily whose editors had been jailed by the Erdogan government, he now faces a sentence of 14 years in  prison.

During his visit to the National Press Club, Önderoğlu told us he had been accompanied on his trip to the United States by his wife and young son. Some of us wondered why, given his dual Turkish-French citizenship, he would not take advantage of what seemed a golden opportunity to make a clean break with a country that is threatening him with a long jail  sentence.

Önderoğlu seemed shocked at the notion of abandoning his country. “Why should I leave?” he asked. “This is my place. I want to be with my  people.”

Today Önderoğlu is back in Turkey, where last week he was leading calls for release of French photographer Mathias Depardon, the latest journalist taken into custody by the Erdogan regime. Depardon was arrested while on assignment for National Geographic magazine.

“We should not forget — and neither should President Trump — that the same ally American taxpayers are hosting today at the White House is tolerating systematic harassment of journalists, including the Voice of America’s Ahmed Ghafur Hakim and Rod Nordland of the New York Times,” said National Press Club President Jeff  Ballou.

“The most effective tool in the fight against terrorism is democratic values,” said Barbara Cochran, president of the National Press Club’s Journalism Institute. “Prime among those is freedom of speech. We urge Presidents Trump and Erdogan to show their respect for that fundamental human right as it is embodied in a free and independent  press.”

The National Press Club is one of the oldest journalism institutions in the U.S.; its Journalism institute is a non-profit affiliate that provides professional training and advances the cause of press freedom through a Press Freedom Committee and a Press Freedom  Fellowship.

SOURCE National Press  Club

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